Monday, October 06, 2014

Ragamuffin - Rich Mullins

I grew up in the Cincinnati, Ohio - Northern Kentucky area. Some of the important years of my life started in 1970 in an era known as "The Jesus Movement."

everything old is new again
Now this was nothing like the "Muslim Movement" that we are currently existing through.

No one was beheaded or killed because they were not a Christian, as is the case today in the Middle East. In fact back then we called them Moslems.

Back in that day, there were some Black Folks that said they were Muslims. They dressed up in suits, wore ties and sold Muslim newspapers, which were actually Muslim propaganda, which they sold on city streets.

The Muslim women dressed up in something called a dashiki and the men wore little hats. I am not sure if this is actually a Muslim fashion or sort of an African fashion.

As Christians we gave out free newspapers, that were really Gospel tracts. We usually wore T-Shirts with a Cross emblazoned on the front or a very Anglicized picture of Jesus' face. We also wore blue jeans and had long hair and wore sandals. The men wore beards and sometimes did not wear shirts.

So it was in this era I ran across Rich Mullins. I had written some Christian songs and I sang and played guitar. There were a few venues around town and many churches and schools where I talked about The Lord and the Jesus Movement and played music with my guitar.

The Cincinnati Jesus House
One of these places was The Cincinnati Jesus House. I had many friends that attended their Saturday night concerts. This is where I first met Rich. Rich was a very humble and shy sort, but put him in front of a piano and he became incredibly animated. He had such a wonderful touch on the piano. The rock players of the day could just eat his dust. I often sat in awe of him while he coaxed music out of the big green ancient and out-of-tune upright piano and sang his songs at The Jesus House.

Rich had written a bunch of songs including the one that inspired Amy Grant called Sing Your Praise To The Lord. Rich was an amazing musician. But like I said he came off as a humble and quiet kind of guy.

During those days Rich was attending The Cincinnati Bible Seminary (which has since been renamed Cincinnati Christian University.) This was a Church of Christ sponsored school. And for those of you who are not familiar with this denomination, they are extremely conservative. In fact there are a few sects that are so conservative that they do not allow instrumental to be played in their churches or by their members.

French Lick Resort
You would think this may have been a problem for Rich. But, most members relished Christian music. They loved to sing. In fact every year there was a convention of membership that was held at a local resort which included swimming pool baptisms and a talent show.

The school also had an annual talent show. Rich played at the talent show and was an instant hit with the students and most of the faculty.

I ran into Rich periodically at coffeehouses and parties, but we never were friends, just acquaintances. However he was very close to many people that I knew. So I honestly knew little of his personal life.

Sadly he was killed in 1997 when the Jeep he owned went out of control. He died and I believe his friend that was riding with him was injured. It was very sad. He was a young man and beloved by many throughout the Christian world. His school had a memorial service for him.

During Rich's career he decided to live on the income that an average person would make. He set aside his other earnings including song royalties into a trust that was divided up for various charities. He never knew the exact amount of his income.

I have to say the movie of the story of his life, Ragamuffin, was a real shock to me. For years I had issues with 'assumptive behavior', that is to say I assume everyone had the same likes, dislikes and lifestyle that I have. But thinking back in time, I ran across so many folks in the Jesus Movement that were coming to terms with very dysfunctional situations. Not me. I was pretty much your average guy who loved the Lord and didn't drink, smoke, chew or hang out with those who do.

As it turns out Rich had issues with alcohol and smoking. Sex or sexual suppression was also an issue, but these were the years when most all young folks are full of hormonal rage. The movie did not go into depth about this issue, however Rich spoke about it during his concerts.

I had no idea that Rich had all these issues with addictive behavior. In spite of this people loved the man for who he was and for the wonderful music he created and all the things he said during his concerts.

On the other hand, I was attending a church that was packed full of my friends, and was in the early stages of marriage and parenthood. This church I attended was non-denominational, but the clergy were Church of Christ trained pastors. My wife grew up in the Episcopal tradition and eventually became Catholic. In all honesty I should have grown up Catholic, but for some issues that my Dad had with the Church when his Mother passed away. The Church hurt him badly. My Church was about to do the same with me. My wife wanted to start an intercessory prayer group and announced this one morning at Church when the pastor was out of town. When he returned he contacted me to talk about this offense that my wife committed.

I was told to get her in line or else. After meeting the pastor at a restaurant and talking for about a half hour, myself, my wife and my children; my children who were consecrated in the Church and the membership promised to watch over them, we were all given the Left Boot of Fellowship and told not to come back.

So 47 years later I watch a movie and find out that one of the beloved of my church had so many issues, but was welcomed and I was not. That hurt.

But you know what? ~Maybe I should insert one of Jesus' parables here~ After years of brooding about the pain that my Church caused to my heart and my soul, I came to the realization that those people did not deserve such a good and true friend as myself or any member of my family. Their loss was my gain. I had quit attending any Church for fear of being hurt again. I had a great time sharing my music, but once again if they never heard me play songs for The Lord again, it was their loss. I still sang them as prayers. Currently I've arrived at peace and attend a wonderful Anglican Church that is full of souls who have been hurt by the Church. I once again can share the gift of music that God has given to me.

I truly do believe that if Rich had lived beyond his 42 years on this earth, he would have been at peace with this life. Despite all of his problems, his heart was always set on God and His Son Jesus. I know Rich would have finally left it all behind and set his feet on the right and righteous road.

It was an honor to meet him and sit on the floor listening to his wonderful, blessed songs of praise.


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